Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein has set his resident comicbook maven, Kevin Smith, to write and direct "The Green Hornet."
Smith expects to have a script ready in time to begin shooting scenes of the masked Hornet and his kung-fu-fighting chauffeur, Kato, by late summer.
Weinstein plucked "Green Hornet" from turnaround at Universal two years ago and earmarked it as a cornerstone of his studio's venture into tentpole fare.
He'll do that with a venerable character created by Fran Striker and George Trendle for a radio serial that launched in 1936.
Protag Britt Reid, millionaire publisher of the Daily Sentinel, who moonlights as a masked crime fighter, has had several incarnations, including the live-action TV series that starred Van Williams but is best remembered for introducing Bruce Lee to U.S. auds in 1966.
"I dig the fact that he kicked off a run of billionaire playboys who decided to put on a mask and fight crime, and that he was Batman before there was a Batman," said Smith, whose View Askew banner is based at Miramax and who has directed four of his five features there.
Though Smith is a comicbook freak -- he sold his comics collection to finance his 1994 debut film, "Clerks," and now operates a comics store in New Jersey -- he never expected to direct a film about a comicbook character.
He made an exception for the Green Hornet, for several reasons. Among them is the fact that the character has high name recognition but isn't shackled by the storyline: Most people remember the title character and Kato, but cannot name their adversaries or even recall the tricked-out car they drove.
For Smith, that leaves plenty of room for imagination. For Weinstein, that means a promo deal with a car company and other merchandising efforts seem natural.
"I always said I'd never do one, based on my limited experience writing on 'Superman' and having to answer to the studio, the producer, the comics company and eventually a director," Smith said. "Then there's a fandom that gets up in arms if you even try to stray from their character. Here, there is simplicity in the character and the situation.
"Equally important, the only person I have to answer to is Harvey, with whom I've made four movies. This is the only circumstance that led me to take on a comicbook movie, and something so big."
Smith is ready
Weinstein watched Smith's next Miramax pic, "Jersey Girl," which opens in March, and felt Smith was ready for tentpole duty.
"His work demonstrated his continued growth as a filmmaker, and we have no doubt that he will tackle this franchise for us in a compelling and entertaining way," Weinstein said. "Kevin knows more about comic characters, books and the creative process than anyone else I have ever met."
The pic will be supervised by Jon Gordon and Hannah Minghella. George Trendle, son of the "Green Hornet" creator, will exec produce with Harold Berkowitz.
Miramax's turnaround deal with Universal for option and license fees was valued at nearly $3 million. U had controlled the property for a decade.
Smith hasn't gotten to the casting stage yet, but said he was intrigued by both actors who were linked to the pic while it was at U. George Clooney had a pay-or-play deal for the title character before Steven Spielberg extricated him to star in DreamWorks' first drama, "The Peacemaker." Jet Li once was linked to the role of Kato.
(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)